Having slept off the effects of my long, less-than-restful night at the Stanford Sleep Center, I'm bidding adieu for a while to the world of standard sleep medicine and traveling out onto the emerging frontiers of sleep research, where some fascinating things are going on.
My first stop: a visit with Stephen LaBerge, a world- famous psycho-physiologist who claims you can control your dreams and make them as tangibly real as your waking life. According to LaBerge, by mastering the techniques of lucid dreaming you can enjoy any fantasy adventure — fly to the stars, swim with a pod of whales, travel in time, make love along the Seine — with your awareness and your senses fully intact.
A Lucid Dream
Skeptical? I'd be, too, except for two considerations. First is the clinical mindset with which LaBerge approaches his work — over more than 20 years, his landmark research has scientifically verified and explored the phenomenon of lucid dreaming.
The second thing is I just had one of my own.
It happened last Tuesday. I woke in my hotel room late at night and rose to visit the john. When I reached for the light switch, it wasn't there. I groped along the wall, searched behind the towel rack, reached behind the door...
My fingers slid across the cool wall tiles and the bumpy grout lines in between. I felt the nubby terrycloth towels as I pushed them aside. I checked behind the curtain and heard rain spattering outside the louvered window. But the wall switch was nowhere to be found.
Puzzled, I wondered if I was dreaming. I'd been working on lucid dream techniques for weeks now, following instructions sent to me by LaBerge, and I knew that the first difficult step toward lucidity was to recognize a dream while you're in one. But I shrugged off the notion that the disappearing light switch was a tip-off. I was too clear-headed; the room around me was too tangible and real. Look, there's my razor, my toothbrush, my Tums.
To be sure, I wrapped my fist around my left forearm and squeezed hard — the arm felt solid and fleshy. Then I spread my hands in front of my face. I recognized the lifeline and the wedding ring and the little scar where Bob Marino stabbed me with a Number 2 pencil in the seventh grade. They were my hands, all right, except that the fingers were as flat and limp as fettuccine noodles.